The PFT guys take a look at the NFL’s slate of weekend playoff games. Can the Falcons take down a hot Seattle team? Will Baltimore ride their emotional high to a win in Denver?This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
ProFootballTalk: Are the Broncos still favored?
The Lions will try to take another step toward a NFC North title when they host the Bears on Sunday, but they may have to do it without starting center Travis Swanson.
Swanson was out of practice on Wednesday because of a concussion, which means he’ll need to proceed through the league’s concussion protocol in the next few days if he’s going to be cleared to play against Chicago.
It’s not clear when Swanson suffered the injury or reported symptoms. He played every snap for the Lions in their Week 13 victory over the Saints and has started all 12 games for Detroit this season.
Rookie Graham Glasgow competed with Swanson for the job over the summer and would be the likeliest replacement if Swanson can’t go. Glasgow has been starting at left guard, so moving over a spot would probably mean a return to the lineup for 2015 first-round pick Laken Tomlinson.
You can scratch cornerback Robert Alford from the list of free agents hitting the market in the offseason.
The team announced that Alford has signed a contract extension with the Falcons that will keep him in Atlanta beyond the 2016 season. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that it is a four-year deal with $21 million in guarantees and up to $38 million in total money.
Alford joined the Falcons as a second-round pick in 2013 and is in the final year of his rookie contract. Alford has started every game he’s played for Atlanta over the last three seasons and has returned interceptions for touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. He has nine interceptions overall over his four years with the team.
Alford was one of two cornerbacks that the Falcons took early in the 2013 draft. First-round pick Desmond Trufant is on injured reserve at the moment, but is under contract for next season and an extension for him would lock the duo in as front-line members of the Falcons for some time.
“I don’t make excuses, but there’s a lot of dysfunction in the organization right now.”
That’s probably not an excuse that we’ll be hearing from Rams coach Jeff Fisher after his team’s next loss, in large part because one of his recent non-excuse excuses took the dysfunction to a new level.
Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com has harvested quotes from unnamed Rams sources that underscore the problems flowing from Fisher’s recent effort to attribute the franchise’s struggles to shortcomings in personnel.
“It pissed me off because I knew it was meant as a shot,” one unnamed Rams source told Breer. “You see it under that umbrella — ‘We need to do a better job in personnel.’ OK, but you want everyone to think that you have full control. You can’t have it both ways, and it can’t always be the talent. Look at the roster, 2012 to now. In ’12, Jeff did a masterful job with what he was given. But we’ve gotten more talent, and we’ve gotten worse.”
Said Fisher on Tuesday: “I look at this as being my responsibility, the win-loss record. We need to do a better job from a personnel standpoint. We’ve had some unfortunate things take place with some high picks in Stedman Bailey and Tre Mason and those kinds of things you don’t anticipate.”
Coupled with Fisher, who has a two-year contract extension, claiming he didn’t know that G.M. Les Snead also had received a contract extension, Fisher’s comments create the impression that Fisher isn’t really running the show, and that he’s at the mercy of those who actually have the power that Fisher doesn’t.
Said another Rams source to Breer: “It’s always good to have healthy tension between the coach and GM, but that shouldn’t hurt the team or cause finger-pointing. Over five years, [Tuesday] was the first time you saw public comments. That should never happen. . . . The organization has given them a long leash. And given that they’ve had time, they have to win, and they have to be able to work together.”
Many will think they have no choice but to work together because they each have two-year contracts beyond 2016. But given that the extensions were in place well before the season began (and in light of the belief that they cover only one year), the changed circumstances arising from a bad season and a worse situation within the organization could still prompt owner Stan Kroenke to press the reset button — especially if Kroenke is worried that he’ll be unable to sell an ideal amount of premium products for the new stadium in Inglewood if the team persists with a power structure that: (1) isn’t getting along; and (2) isn’t having nearly enough success.
The next question becomes whether and to what extent the anonymous quotes given to Breer will cause even more problems in the building, especially once Fisher begins connecting the dots in an effort to figure out who’s been blabbing. Chances are that the comments weren’t recklessly given to Breer after a couple of beers but that the leak was engineered to provoke a reaction from a guy who is absent-mindedly meandering toward a cliff.
Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler knows just how important Sunday’s game against the Colts is, with the two teams at 6-6 and part of a three-way tie atop the AFC South.
“This game Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, this is the biggest game of our season,” Osweiler said. “I’m viewing our season right now as a one-game season and it’s a one game that we must win. I think our entire football team understands that. There’s great urgency in this building right now and it reflected at today’s practice. No doubt about it, we understand as a team how important Sunday is and you can expect our best effort come Sunday.”
Osweiler stands by his claim that the Texans’ offense is close to exploding, although he acknowledges he has to get better.
“I always believe that I can play better,” he said. “I’m striving for perfection every single week and so there’s nobody that’s ever going to judge themselves harder than my own self.”
If Osweiler can’t help the Texans win on Sunday, plenty of people will be judging him harshly. The AFC South is ripe for the taking, and if the Texans don’t take it, it’s because Osweiler hasn’t performed up to expectations.
And Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman obviously couldn’t resist getting in one last dig at the Panthers quarterback, saying he thought coach Ron Rivera did the right thing benching him for the first series (which lasted one play) for not wearing a tie on the team flight to Seattle.
“You’ve got accountability,” Sherman said, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “You’ve got to hold everybody accountable the same. When you start treating guys different it’s a slippery slope.”
That’s effectively the message Rivera was sending, trying to bury it yesterday by saying he didn’t want to create “chaos” by not applying the rules equitably.
Of course, it’s easier for Sherman to have a more relaxed take on it, since Seahawks coach Pete Carroll apparently has a more relaxed set of rules about fashion.
“There’s not a ton of them,” Sherman said of Carroll’s rules. “For one-day trips, it’s more formal. You wear polo shirts or jeans or something nicer. Very ambiguous but nicer. But put your shoes on — he doesn’t like me wearing my Uggs. For two-day trips it’s more casual because it’s obviously going to be a time change and a longer flight, so he allows us to wear kind of whatever you put on.”
Sherman also said Carroll “doesn’t go back there and check” to see what guys are wearing.
“If you are asking have we ever run into anything like that? We haven’t,” Sherman said. “Pete is a pretty cool guy. Don’t be disrespectful and most guys respect the things he says and are pretty good about that.”
That may be the biggest issue some have with Rivera’s rules. The application of the rule is fine and just and fair, but the rule itself seems dated considering Newton’s travel day outfit was about the most conservative thing he’s worn all season.
Nick Mangold finally got back on the field Monday, but he didn’t last long. So he’s going to find out why.
According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Jets center Nick Mangold is flying to Charlotte today to see noted foot and ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson.
Mangold had been out since Week Seven with a right ankle injury (the longest stretch of injury absence in his career) but came back to start Monday against the Colts.
The Jets might decide to shut him down, depending on what Anderson tells him today. If so, Wesley Johnson will likely fill in for him again.
The Bears have had a bad season and that leads to speculation about offseason changes as the year winds down, including a report from Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Tribune this week that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could be on his way out as part of “a massive overhaul” that wouldn’t include the departure of head coach John Fox.
Fox said on Wednesday that he is “very, very pleased with our staff” and that he and Fangio get along well, something that the defensive coordinator echoed as well. Fox has a defensive background, but Fangio said they “pretty much do what I see fit to do 98 percent of the time” while taking a steam shovel to Mulligan’s overall report.
“It gives you guys a bad name,” Fangio said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s one of your colleagues, and irresponsible reporting doesn’t shine well for all of you, and that’s too bad because … I enjoy talking to you guys.”
The Bears are allowing fewer points and yards per game than they were last season, which hasn’t been enough for the Bears to avoid a 3-9 record. Even with that record, it is hard to look at the team and say the defense is the area most in need of a new approach come the 2017 season.
Buccaneers running back Doug Martin was limited in last Sunday’s win over the Chargers after getting “bent back” in the second half of the game, but all seems to be well physically now as Martin does not make an appearance on the team’s injury report for Wednesday’s practice.
His role in the offense may still be curtailed this week, however. Jacquizz Rodgers returned to action in San Diego after missing four games with a foot injury and made plays on the ground and as a receiver down the stretch. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken suggested that he’ll get more opportunities against the Saints as the team looks for better results out of the backfield.
“It was good to get him back,” Monken said, via ESPN.com. “I would assume he’ll only be better this week in a little more of an expanded role. … We have been getting healthier at running back, which is a good sign. We’ve just got to do it better. We’ve got to do a better job on the perimeter blocking. We’ve got to do a better job up front, a better job seeing the holes.”
The Bucs are also expected to get Charles Sims back into the lineup this week after his stay on injured reserve, expanding the options available to Monken as he tries to get the ground game churning in Tampa.
Jets WR Brandon Marshall has coach Todd Bowles’ back.
Ravens WR Steve Smith makes fun of Dolphins for complaining about grass.
A look at how the Bengals get their plays in from the sideline.
Uh-oh, the Jaguars are having meetings to figure out what’s wrong with their offense.
Broncos OLB Von Miller even gets sacks on his day off.
The Chiefs are rotating their defensive linemen in shifts like a hockey team.
The Chargers might be a lot of things, but they aren’t quitters under Mike McCoy.
A Cowboys Super Bowl tattoo. What could possibly go wrong?
Eagles players are having a hard time knowing what to make of coach Doug Pederson’s questions of effort.
Washington’s practice was complicated by the fact the injury list was a long one.
The pendulum on Lions coach Jim Caldwell’s future swings pretty regularly.
The Packers may try to exploit the Seahawks’ sudden issue in the middle.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer didn’t want to talk much about his eyes.
The Saints are showing new things on defense — like actually playing defense.
The Cardinals are looking to end their road woes in Miami.
Cushing was listed as limited with back and ankle injuries, although it sounds like the back issue is the more significant of the two problems. Cushing shared the extent of the injury on Wednesday while discussing “the physicality of the sport.”
“There’s two fractures in my back, but those are things you have to push through,” Cushing said, via the Houston Chronicle. “Obviously, it’s painful, and I’m not able to get as many reps as I want in practice right now, but I’ll be out there Sunday with my team. I want the guys to know they can count on me, and that means the world to me. I’ve missed a number of games with season-ending injuries, and I don’t want to miss any more time, so as long as I can walk, I’ll be out there.”
The Texans have lost defensive end J.J. Watt and cornerback Kevin Johnson for the season and had defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Johnathan Joseph out of practice on Wednesday with injuries that could sideline them for Sunday’s game against the Colts. That doesn’t make them unique in the NFL, but it does sap the strongest part of the team and makes the presence of Cushing and the rest of their front-line defenders significant as they try to take the AFC South crown.
Wednesday marked the 75th anniversary of the day that continues to live in infamy: The surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Japan.
Speaking there at an event to commemorate the occasion, Admiral Harry Harris, the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, made a reference to the ongoing national anthem protest from 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“You can bet that the men and women we honor today — and those who died that fateful morning 75 years ago — never took a knee and never failed to stand whenever they heard our national anthem being played,” Harris said, via the Associated Press.
According to the account of the remarks and the reaction to them, the words “generated a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd, with people whistling and hooting.”
Although Kaepernick was never mentioned by name, the issue has received sufficient national attention (including an image of Kaepernick kneeling on the cover of Time magazine) to make it clear that the reference was to him.
The moment underscores the challenges Kaepernick will face in his search for a new team, if the 49ers don’t re-sign him before he becomes a free agent. Multiple owners surely will be concerned about the reaction that fans will have if/when Kaepernick joins their team, which necessarily will limit Kaepernick’s options — especially with plenty of other options likely available to teams in 2017.
Whitlock’s New Jersey home was broken into Tuesday night, and the burglars left behind some frightening reminders — including a graffiti swastika, the letters KKK and the message “Go back to Africa.”
“It just re-establishes that no matter where you are, no matter who you are, this can happen to you,” Whitlock told WCBS. “It’s about to be 2017. Oppression, violence, racism, hatred, violence, there’s no need for that.”
Whitlock said some jewelry and video game systems were stolen, but the messages left behind were as frightening as the loss of security that comes with knowing someone has invaded your home. It’s the second time they’ve been broken into, and they were already planning to move before the first incident, which happened over Thanksgiving weekend.
Whitlock’s a fullback by trade, but the Giants have also used him as a special teamer and interior pass-rusher on defense, at least before his injury and suspension.
For the last two trade deadlines and last offseason, many have wondered if the Browns were finally going to mercy-trade left tackle Joe Thomas to a contender.
But Browns coach Hue Jackson wants to stop that talk before it starts this offseason, promising that he’d protect Thomas as long as he was the coach there.
“That’s not happening or I’m going with him, okay?” Jackson said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I guarantee you that. I’m going with him. No, Joe Thomas means too much to this organization and to this football team. As I said to everybody, I want us to do right by him. Right by that is let’s go get this man some wins. He deserves that.
“He deserves to be on a winning football team and have a chance to chase playoffs and championships. That’s why you’re here. . . . We have to get this thing right for those guys because it’s truly what it is about — our fans, our organization — but those players, they give a lot and we have to give it back to them.”
That’s the kind if impassioned plea that makes players love Jackson, but it also doesn’t make sense if you boil it down to the facts. Thomas is one of the best players in the league at his position on a team that’s years from contending. He’s borderline expensive ($8.8 million the next two years) and getting older (32), and the Browns cleared out guys with smaller numbers on both those scales this offseason.
When asked about Jackson’s vow to leave if he did, Thomas joked: “Oh, that’s nice of him. Where we going, the Bahamas? I’m in.”
But he also said he wants the same thing Jackson wants, in the same place.
“From the moment that Hue got here, him and I have had a close relationship and it’s built on trust and honesty and we both like how the other person operates and how they do their business,” Thomas said. “I’ve been an admirer of Hue since his days in Oakland even and then when we’d play them twice a year with Cincinnati, I always really respected him as a coach and I enjoyed talking with him after games.
“Since he’s been here I have really even had another level of respect for the way he has handled this difficult season and kind of the difficult cards that he’s been dealt. I don’t think there’s many coaches in the NFL — in all of NFL history — that would have been able to handle this situation as well as he has. . . . He means so much to this team and to these players right now and I think we all feel very fortunate that he’s our head coach.”
Of course, when you’re 0-12, it’s hard to imagine how many are truly safe, and whether Jackson and Thomas get to fulfill their wish in Cleveland depends on getting more players, and quickly.
Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount is on pace to finish this season with a career-high 1,267 yards, and he has already scored a career-high 13 touchdowns. Not bad for guy who just turned 30.
But while running backs typically decline at age 30, Blount doesn’t think there’s any reason to be concerned about his health or durability.
“Nothing’s changed. I turned 30. No big deal. It still feels the same. It’s not like I’ve aged 10 years. I’m not fragile yet,” Blount said, via the Boston Herald. “It’s not too much of a difference to me. Right now, I’m feeling really good.”
In past years Patriots coach Bill Belichick has liked to split the workload running the ball, but this year it’s all Blount: The Patriots’ No. 2 rusher this season, James White, is primarily a receiver and has just 31 carries for 129 yards. Blount is the bell cow for the Patriots, and turning 30 doesn’t change that.
For the first time in Pete Carroll’s tenure as head coach, the Seahawks will have to play a significant stretch of games without Earl Thomas at free safety.
Steven Terrell will be the replacement for Thomas in the back-end of Seattle’s defense. The fourth-year safety – undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2013 – has been the primary backup to Thomas over the last two seasons. His first start in place of Thomas came two weeks ago in Tampa Bay as Thomas was sidelined with a hamstring strain. Now the job is his with Thomas out for the season with a broken leg.
“It was pretty tough hearing the news but for me, it was like, I need to step up, come in and do my job, do my part in this team and do the best I can to fill in for him,” Terrell said.
Terrell expects to be tested early and often as he takes over for Thomas.
“I’m prepared for that, you always think teams are going to take shots deep,” Terrell said Wednesday. “Teams are going to do what they do. Especially the Packers, Aaron Rodgers takes shots down the field and he’s done that against us in years past with Earl back there. You always have to expect that.
“You got to prepare for that. I would assume they would. This defense, it’s kind of hard to single one person out and try to attack them. We have so many weapons and the way our style of play is, but I assume they will come after me. I don’t really know.”
He’s played in 26 games for Seattle over the last three seasons. After a rookie season spent bouncing between Jacksonville and Houston, Terrell signed with the Seahawks early in training camp in 2014. He’d established a role as a key special teams contributor for Seattle and had played sparingly in relief roles at both safety and nickel cornerback.